I am a woman in her mid-40′s who was first diagnosed with Manic-Depression (now known as Bipolar Disorder) 25 years ago. For two decades, I chose to treat only the depressive symptoms of the disorder. A breakdown that included a stay in a psychiatric hospital, an astute therapist, loving husband and new psychiatrist brought me back to a diagnosis of Bipolar I and convinced me to treat the entire spectrum of the disease.
For whatever reason, for twenty years I found it more acceptable to carry around a denial-diagnosis of unipolar depression (depression only, sans any manic symptoms whatsoever). Why? Because I associated Bipolar with the spectacular stories of bad behavior by famous people from long ago – and the frankly horrible, antiquated treatment they received. People like Van Gogh and Vivien Leigh. Leigh’s story especially scared me. After reading biographies about Vivien (my namesake) when I was a teenager, vivid mental pictures of her with burn marks on her temples from ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) and shivering under and ice blanket haunt me to this day.
The big reset came when I was finally educated that you don’t have to run around naked, or ripping your clothes off on the rooftops while screaming your lungs out to be considered manic. My therapist craftily indulged my nerd intellect, dragged out her DSM and read aloud the criteria for mania, hypomania and mixed episodes. The shoe fit. Actually, I’d been wearing the shoe my whole life but refused to look down to see it for many, many years. So, with great care and understanding my husband and therapist gently brought me back to the Manic-Depressive / Bipolar diagnosis that was made decades earlier.
Today I am accepting of my diagnosis, better educated, taking the right medication and overall in a good frame of mind. My relationships with my husband and my son have improved immensely, and I see a future for the first time in a long time. Of course, everything is not always rosy in Bipolar Land. Stigma is something I struggle with every day. As is keeping the medication balanced and stress to a minimum. But, it is possible. Life is so much better when my Bipolar is under control.